Every year, Proven Winners® trial managers evaluate thousands of plants — yet only a select few make the cut. Learn how they find the best.
We asked Kevin Hurd, Proven Winners Director of New Products, to walk us through the very tough selection process for Proven Winners plants. It’s a complex process, and it doesn’t happen overnight.
Kevin Hurd: We have many long-standing relationships with breeders, large and small, and they often bring us new ideas. That’s how Diamond Frost® Euphorbia and Snow Princess® Lobularia were discovered.
We visit a lot of breeders, see what they’re trialing and seek varieties that we would like to see improved or faults we would like to correct. We have our own ‘genetic roadmap’ of improvements we would like to see. An example of this is Senorita Rosalita® Cleome, developed without thorns.
Kevin Hurd and the Proven Winners trial managers travel often to various breeders to see the plants they are trialing and discuss potential plant improvements in the works.
KH: Once we find plants we want to trial, we send them to the Proven Winners members’ locations for growing in different conditions: Sunny and low humidity in California; hot and humid in Michigan; and less hot and humid in New Hampshire. We have a separate private trial in Florida where we evaluate plants in heat and humidity, as well as cold conditions. This trialing is done simultaneously through fall and winter.
The trial managers evaluate plants in propagation trials, in greenhouse trials, in 4.25-in. Grande™ containers and hanging baskets, as well as outdoors to test summer performance. This past winter, we had approximately 2,700 plants in trials.
Plants are tested at all three Proven Winners members’ locations, as well as a separate, private trial in Florida. Here, plants experience heat, humidity and cold conditions.
KH: We look for a lot of characteristics, but they have to add up to success for the home gardener. We study flowering, color, branching, vigor, disease resistance, heat and drought tolerance, and many other factors. The main factor, in home gardeners’ minds, is a healthy, vigorous plant. All our tests are focused on making sure these plants will grow vigorously for the end consumer.
Of course, we also look for plants that growers can grow successfully, but the emphasis at Proven Winners is success for the consumer. We want home gardeners to say, “I can grow plants!”
KH: Once we start trialing in the fall, we slowly narrow it down, constantly dropping plants that don’t perform to our standards. We also have three scheduled drops: In March after winter trials; in June; and in early August. During the last two drops, the entire Proven Winners trial team visits all the testing sites to compare notes and evaluate and select plants together.
After our recent June drop, there are only about 750+ left in the group. After the August drop, there will be about 50 plants that make the cut from the original group of 2,700.
KH: Plants that have done well for one or more propagator, but not for all three, often become Proven Selections® varieties. They are terrific plants and have been proven to do well in their growing regions.
A plant may also become a Proven Selections variety if it meets our standards but is not available exclusively to Proven Winners.
KH: Not yet. The Proven Winners members then evaluate each plant in terms of logistics, economics, production considerations and other factors. The members vote on plants to move to the next level.
That final group of plants moves into greenhouse production through the winter and the Product Line Managers (PLMs) work with Trial Managers to determine proper culture and production methods (see sidebar to the right). Once the plants pass this extensive production test, they are introduced to the market at the California Spring Trials.
Kevin Hurd, Proven Winners Director of New Products, and his family.
KH: The one I’m most excited about is Vermillionaire™ Cuphea. It is an interspecific cross that is tough as nails. It really shines in my garden right now and I’ve never seen it look bad. It’s one of those plants that everyone can grow, and hummingbirds just love it!